Why are so many people getting food poisoning? 48 million people will get food poisoning each year–that’s one out of every six Americans. What’s going on? Why do we hear about food poisoning cases so often? Scientists at the US Department of Agriculture have stumbled across a big part of the answer. Put simply—people don’t wash their hands.
USDA along with North Carolina State University made a video to explain how to properly use a meat thermometer. To determine how useful the video would be, the team gathered a group of volunteers and showed half the video. All the volunteers were then sent into the test kitchen to prepare turkey burgers that had been contaminated with a harmless tracer virus along with a salad. Not surprisingly, 75% of the video watching group attempted to use the thermometer. Only 34% of those who didn’t watch tried to use a thermometer. But what surprised the researchers most was that participants in both groups rarely if ever washed their hands during the cooking process. In fact, 98% didn’t take the time to perform the most basic step of safe food handling. And those who did wash, didn’t do it well enough to actually remove the virus.
When scientists tested kitchen surfaces after the volunteers had finished cooking they found the spiked bacteria everywhere. People would handle the raw meat, then touch other items in the kitchen without washing their hands. The bacteria was found on the salt, pepper, and other spice containers. Counters and utensils were contaminated. But most dangerous of all, people would handle the raw meat then prepare the salad without washing up. 5 percent of lettuce in the salad had been contaminated by dirty hands. Properly washing your hands is the simplest step in stopping the spread of food poisoning.
To prevent food poisoning, health departments and food handlers organizations recommend you wash your hands before you begin preparing any food, and after you use the restroom–everyone should know this by now. But you should also wash after you touch your clothing, hair, face or any other part of your body during food preparation. In addition, you need to wash again if you stop to use the telephone, take out the garbage, clear the dirty dishes from the table, or eat. And lastly, always wash your hands between handling and preparing each type of food. How often do you wash yours?